As Europe’s energy crisis escalates, Uniper, Germany’s biggest natural gas importer, turned to the government for help on Friday, hours after parliament passed legislation aimed at keeping the energy supplier afloat.
The company’s finances have been hit hard by cuts in Russian gas supplies. Most recently, Gazprom, the state-controlled giant in Russia, cut supplies through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Germany.
Uniper, acting as a kind of intermediary between Gazprom German factories and municipalities are forced to fill the shortage of Russian fuel ordered under long-term contracts by purchasing more expensive materials such as liquefied natural gas. But for now, the company is largely unable to pass these higher costs on to its customers.
Uniper is bearing “the lion’s share of the costs associated with these cuts and is thus in a very precarious position,” CEO Klaus-Dieter Mobach told a news conference Friday.
He said that over the past three weeks, Uniper has experienced a cut in gas supplies from Gazprom equivalent to what the company’s home city of Düsseldorf consumes in a year.
The company’s daily losses are in the “medium double-digit millions” of euros, he said, “which we cannot tolerate for long.”
mr. Maubach said Uniper had been in talks with the German government for weeks, but has asked for help now, less than 24 hours after the incident. german parliament passed the Energy Security Act, designed to strengthen Berlin’s ability to take measures to rescue companies deemed necessary to heat homes and operate businesses.
The law also includes a measure that allows energy companies to bring coal-fired power plants, which were recently mothballed to reduce carbon emissions, into operation in order to produce more electricity and release more gas.
But the law sets a high bar to allow energy suppliers to pass on higher gas prices to consumers and limit supplies. And the country’s regulator would first have to determine what the gas crisis was.
Now Uniper appears to be counting on government intervention because the collapse of a company with such a large and diverse presence in the gas markets could further complicate an already difficult energy situation in Germany and Europe.
Uniper is participating in government efforts to reduce its reliance on Russian fuels by building the country’s first terminal to receive liquefied natural gas from the US and other countries at Wilhelmshaven on the northwest coast. But this facility is not expected to start operating until the end of December.
mr. Mobach warned that if current trends continue, the government’s goal of building up large amounts of gas storage to avert shortages and possible winter rationing will be in jeopardy. He said that Uniper could be forced to start emptying its own large gas storage facilities as early as next week.
The government appears to be responding to requests.
“We will not allow a systemically important company to go bankrupt and thereby cause turbulence in the global energy market,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Friday. “With the new legislation in the Energy Security Law, we have different options and we will act.”
mr. Khabek is also trying to organize The Canadian government will return the turbine this, according to Gazprom, is the reason for the reduction in flows through Nord Stream 1. Adding to the worries, Gazprom plans to completely close the pipeline on Monday for scheduled repairs for 10 days. There are fears that the channel may remain closed.
The German network operator said it was unable to determine how the absence of one turbine could lead to such a significant reduction in gas flows. Mobach repeated, saying that it was “implausible”. He said Uniper had made it clear in conversations with the Russian company that “we expect them to pay compensation for the damage we incur.”
mr. Maubach has asked the government to compensate Uniper for the higher costs, possibly by passing the price increase on to customers.
mr. Maubach also wants the government to expand the €2bn credit line it already has from KfW, Germany’s state investment bank. Finally, he suggests that the government buy a substantial stake – more than 10 percent – in Uniper, in part to provide more assurance to financial markets and rating agencies.
Investor confidence in the company is fading. Uniper’s share price has fallen about 75% since January, and ratings agency S&P Global said on Tuesday it was monitoring a possible downgrade of the company’s debt rating. Uniper is now “depending on external factors, including government support,” it said in a statement.
Complicating matters is the fact that Uniper is majority owned by the Finnish company Fortum, which will have to agree to the terms of the bailout.
While it is not yet clear what steps the government will take, it seems clear that some combination of consumers and taxpayers will eventually pay to keep Uniper’s functions and shoulder the increased gas costs.
Now consumers receive gas on the terms agreed in 2020 and 2021, when gas was sold ten times cheaper than now. “A big wave of rising prices is just ahead,” he said. Maubach said.